The year 2019 was just amazing from a business viewpoint. The economy was a business owner’s dream. Jobs were coming in faster than we could keep up with, and everything was good. As 2019 ended and a new decade began, early 2020 showed no signs of letting up!
Then, the bad news began. In late January, the news began reporting on a new virus discovered in China called the Coronavirus. As February began, the Coronavirus began to take center stage on the world scene. In March, people were told to not go out in public unless it was absolutely necessary. We were told to wear masks to stop the spread of the virus. Masses of people began to hoard toilet paper when news broke of potential supply issues.
Then came that fateful Friday when the Governor of California declared that all businesses shut down unless they were deemed “essential” — which most of us initially assumed only meant firefighters and law enforcement. Thankfully, the next day, the California Landscape Contractors Association was instrumental in getting the landscape trade designated as an essential business.
Even though we knew we could work safely outdoors, many clients thought otherwise and postponed jobs. This meant I had to scramble to keep my crews working.
Back to School
Around the time this was happening, I received a call from the Environmental Charter Middle School in Inglewood. They wanted to upgrade certain elements of the aging infrastructure across their amazing campuses, which include a high school and two middle schools (with plans underway to build an additional high school).
We were happy to help out, especially because they had several existing ponds on campus. One was paid for through a grant; however, the pond builder was a general contractor who had zero pond-building experience, and it showed — there was no pond filtration!
On our first day to the middle school, we decided to tackle the no-filter pond. It had tons of goldfish and a few koi. It was built out of concrete, and its “filter” consisted of frequent water changes. There was a small underground concrete vault with a drain where the pond water was drained. Since the vault was already there, we decided to place the filter inside this vault. The vault was small, but thankfully, today’s pressure filters have a very small footprint and do an amazing job of cleaning out pond debris.
Circulation & Filtration
We decided to install an OASE pressure filter (Filtoclear 4000) and an Aquamax 3,600-gph filter pump. We chose this combination for several reasons.
First, the pump. We wanted a pump that could go on the bottom of the pond, where all the fish waste tends to end up. Once the fish waste falls to the bottom of the pond, the Aquamax pump sucks it in and pushes it to the filter. The Aquamax has an extremely low electrical draw, saving the school thousands of dollars over the life of the pond. Adding to the electrical savings is the longevity of the pump itself. I still have ponds running with their originally installed OASE pumps for more than 10 years. In case you didn’t know, a pump with more than a decade of constant service and low electrical draw is practically unheard of! The pump is square, making it easy to hide at the bottom of the pond, and has an attachment that can add a satellite drain to the other end of the pond bottom for additional filtration. A mini skimmer also can be added if there is a high organic load. We didn’t in this case, since there was no organic load nearby, but it was nice to know it was available in case it was needed.
The pressure filter (Filtoclear 4000) is a real gem. The Aquamax pump pushes pond water into the OASE filter. Once the pond water enters the filter chamber, there is a plethora of special debris collecting sponges that trap fish solids and release the clean water back to the pond. The filter also has a built-in UV light that eliminates algae populations, resulting in water quality as clear as gin.
Cleaning pond water is only half the job of a pond filter. The pond filter must be easy to clean, or else a pond owner might neglect to clean the filter often enough, resulting in a dirty pond. A dirty pond can be a bad reflection on a pond builder. Thankfully, the Filtoclear 4000 is easy to clean. All it takes is turning a knob and pulling on a handle to let the debris flow. Flushing the Filtoclear is so easy, your hand doesn’t even get wet! I remember in the old days when people were asked to clean out pond filter mats and lava rock; doing so was very heavy and dirty work. Now, it takes a fraction of the time to clean your pond filter.
Just Add Aquaponics
While the crew installed the equipment, I toured the campus and saw a vertical aeroponic tower garden that had been donated to the school, but it was not in use. We decided to incorporate the vertical garden into the pond, providing the students with the ability to grow organic food with pond water. The pond will help teach students about nutrient cycling and plant succession.
Plus, fish make amazing wet pets. The bonus of marrying the vertical tower to the pond meant that students could learn about aquaponics, or growing food with recycled water. We drilled a drain into the bottom of the vertical system and installed a bulkhead fitting to attach a pipe return to the pond. This allows the roots of plants to get wet and absorb nutrients from the pond water. We added a small piece of pond filter mat to the top of the system to trap solids, and the water flows past this point to get to the plant roots.
Aquaponics touches on very big issues. In Southern California, the biggest environmental issue facing residents is a lack of water. Aquaponics’ recycled-water strategy saves about 98% of the water normally used in a soil garden. One can grow organic food that doesn’t have to be sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Plus, the space savings of growing vertically is invaluable for people who have very little room to grow. You can grow 28 heads of lettuce or swiss chard in as little as a 3-by-3-foot space!
We used an OASE 1,200-gph Aquamax to connect the pond to the vertical tower because the electrical demand is a mere 45 watts of power. We rerouted the discharge of the fish waste out of the drain, and now the fish waste (which is rich in nutrients) is discharged into the garden soil, taking full advantage of nature’s own fertilizer.
When the pandemic comes to an end and the students return, they will find a much cleaner pond and a brand-new aquaponic food system. Perhaps some will be inspired to create their own ponds at home — and even better yet, aspire to be professional pond builders! Only time will tell.